Wes Hall may not be a household name, but he should be. Raised primarily by his grandmother in a rundown shack in Jamaica, Hall overcame many adversities to become one of the most influential business men in Canada. His meteoric rise from the mailroom to the boardroom, where he sits as the CEO of Kingsdale Shareholder Inc., is the type of inspirational tale that the youth of today, especially underprivileged black males, need to hear more often.
The fact that Hall is such an intriguing figure only makes Samuel Lehner’s portrait of him that much more difficult to absorb. On one hand, it is great that men like Hall are being recognized in a cinematic format. Unfortunately, Lehner’s documentary, Wes, lacks the distinct directorial voice needed to match the magnitude of its subject. Outside of the opening freeze frame, where Lehner juxtaposes a picture of Hall’s tiny Jamaican home with Hall working at his office, there are few visual flourishes of note.
Wes carries the same image conscious air that one would expect from a business-minded individual. Although other equally high profiled CEOs, from organizations such as Canadian Pacific Railway and Enercare Inc., emphasize the type of savvy and compassionate business man Hall is, the audience rarely sees him interacting with others, in or out of the boardroom, in a meaningful way to support these claims. Hall invites viewers into his world, but does so in a somewhat guarded way.
Aside from the sequence where Hall plays board games with his daughter – and a great shot in the final credits of Hall dancing with his family – there are only a few times when Hall’s structured walls begin to soften. It is actually in these moment that Wes is most captivating. The first example of this comes when Hall travels back to Jamaica and his ailing sister talks openly about how he has been the rock in her four-year battle with cancer. The other moving moment comes when Hall recalls the tragic death of his brother. It is only when Hall allows himself to be vulnerable that his accomplishments in life fully begin to resonate with audiences.
Frankly Wes needed more of these unguarded instances throughout. It is easy to marvel at Wes Hall’s accomplishments, but uncovering the complexities of the man himself is not as simple. There is no question that Hall is the type of black success story that needs to be championed. One just wishes that the film had found a more vibrant and impactful way to tell it.
Saturday, February 13, 7:00 PM, Jackman Hall
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto Black Film Festival website.